In my direct-response marketing career, I’ve seen companies waste a lot of good money on bad advertising. Fortunately, many of these marketing messes have been turned around with persuasive, powerful ads.

Still, one area has remained an untapped goldmine of wasted potential. Nowhere in any medium do I see the type of industry-wide waste as in the Yellow Pages.

Here are the top reasons your ad isn’t working:

  • The look is poor; 95% of ads are laid out “free” by busy, underpaid Yellow Pages staff.

  • Ad results are poor; 81% of contractors ranked leads “below average.”

  • The costs are high. Contractors spend nearly 50% of their entire ad budget in the Yellow Pages.

  • These ads run for a year. You literally pay for your mistakes for a long time.

  • Your ad gets lost. There are 4,900 headings in the Yellow Pages, so standing out from the crowd is difficult.

If you’re going to spend big money, you want results. An expensive, poorly designed ad that looks remarkably like your competitor’s is not the way to do it.

But here’s the good news: If your ad is powerfully improved, then you’re virtually assured to outperform the crowd. And, contrary to what your Yellow Pages ad rep tells you, the best improvements aren’t costly size and color increases. You need power, persuasion, and strong copy points.

Whatever you do with an ad, make it pay.

Before: This is an actual ad with minor identity changes. In this example, the contractor is being charged for five colors (not shown) that do nothing for the ad. Further, the layout is terribly disjointed. The contractor told me it’s been running for three months and he’s had six calls, all price shopping with no sales. Ad cost is $660 per month.

Unbreakable rules of powerful Yellow Pages ads

Yellow Pages readers want detailed, compelling information, yet most Yellow Pages ads read like huge business cards.

Your ads can bring in more leads and profits by following these simple rules. You can look at the “Before and After” examples to get your ideas flowing.

Unbreakable rule 1: Remember what you’re selling.

You aren’t selling your service fleet, owners’ faces, or big logos, so get that stuff out of the ad. You’re selling a phone call. Your mission is to get the prospect to call you right now.

Unbreakable rule 2: Include a unique, powerful, benefit-based headline.

Almost 90% of the ads don’t have a headline. Too many companies think their company name or “Since 1955” is a benefit. It’s not. Also, “For All Your (Blank) Needs” has been used a zillion times. Whatever your company does better than the competition, state it as a powerful headline to your ad.

Give your readers something to latch onto, like “Get More Than You Pay For,” “The Smart Shopper’s Guide to Heating and Cooling,” or “Comfort Now, Pay Later.”

After: Same size, two colors (not shown), and far stronger benefits result in a savings of 48% in cost, and a 557% greater response rate over the previous ad in a sample group. The surprising headline stops the reader. The layout is cleaner, benefits easy to follow. The $3,600 savings per year can be parlayed into newsletters, direct mail, and more to further boost sales.
Unbreakable rule 3:Be persuasive quickly.

Superb, customer-generating Yellow Pages ads must give readers enough information, arranged neatly in easily understood “chunks.” Get your points down, shorten them, and drive them home with a hammer.

Unbreakable rule 4: Understand what persuades readers and what doesn’t.

One ad says, “We will impress you.” That sounds like a challenge. Another says, “We work from ‘can’ to ‘can’t.’” I don’t even understand that one.

Persuade a customer to call by describing real benefits, then back your claims up with strong guarantees to reduce customer apprehension. Think from a customer’s perspective.

Unbreakable rule 5: Size and looks do matter.

Neff Plumbing had been in town for over 10 years. Three new phone numbers were installed and linked to a different-sized ad that counted calls for a year. In order of small to large, the number of phone calls increased from 241 to 443 to 1,382 calls.

More than half of the calls to the big ad came from Neff’s existing customer base. Remember, this number was newly assigned for this test!

However, the biggest ad doesn’t always win. Calls per dollar in our industry fell after roughly 3/4-page ad size. Second only in influence to headline were “clear, detailed ads.”

Buyers want information to help them decide. So if you gave me your “stock,” full-page Yellow Pages ad, I could probably cut it by 30%, put in more firepower, and have it outpull the larger ad by several times. Other contractor ad agencies could probably do the same. It’s a matter of knowing how much is just right.

Bottom line

A well-designed Yellow Pages ad will get prospects to call you first. Make it different, better, and more persuasive, and it will become a full-time salesperson all year long, 24 hrs a day.

Editor’s note: The examples on page 14 show a typical ad before and after it is reworked. If you would like Hudson to offer you free advice and have the results published in a future News article, please fax your ad to the number listed below.